Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Freedom Pt. IVand V - You(')r(e) Problem and His Answer

This week's section is the last in the chapter on "Freedom." If you've been diligently reading along, all the puzzle pieces should start of all into place. We aren't robots after all, and we are free in a sense, but how does any of that help us? Where is the Gospel in it? And when does my freedom from God become slavery to myself? Those are the questions we've been driving towards. Those are the answers we will look for in this week's installment.

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It has been clearly revealed to all the world that the Almighty God intends to be the Savior of mankind.1 But this means that now he is faced with the problem of having to free sinners from their freedom to commit sins. He must make slaves of sin into slaves of righteousness.2 Humanly speaking, this is simply an impossible task.3

It isn't rational. What sane, selfish human would ever willingly give up his will's freedom to decide things for itself? Remember: “But we are not robots!” This is our great defense against the God who has said he will do everything divinely possible in order to save us from our robotic commitment to freedom from him. So utterly corrupt is the human will that we think that God's grace extended in order to save us from our corrupted wills is actually a great evil. So blighted is human nature that we hasten to believe that anything which might be done “against my will” is the very definition of evil. For us, there is no other option. We have placed “what I want” on the throne of God.4

That is the problem with sinners. Sinners don't repent. They can't. It's against their nature. Addicts do not quit. Slaves are not free.

Here we sit, making our constant, daily choices over every little aspect of life. But not a one of these choices is actually “free” in the full sense of the word, precisely because you have to make every single one of them. This means that every free choice is “bound” to be the choice that you want to make, and in this ironic sense, you actually don't have a choice in the matter. Then, if you roll into this equation how the God of Holy Scripture has said that he has destined himself to hold you accountable for every last one of these thoughts, words and deeds, whatever freedom does exist in all of your wants and desires ends up being a matter of debt on a scale before the Judgment seat of the Almighty.5

This is hardly liberating. Life is lived on borrowed capital, and the owner of that capital is going to demand more than a little interest earned from a savings account.6 All this being true, the pretend “freedom” to do whatever we want whenever we want, which we defend so vociferously, stops looking like its really the best apple on the tree. To the contrary, a will that is totally free to make all choices is only free enough to receive the full consequences of those choices.7

With exponential fury, the freedom begins to mount up a supernatural weight of slavery played out in the guilt we feel day by day.8 Even a minimal amount of restriction starts to look pretty helpful – like gutter-rails on a bowling lane. It's like the difference between being given two different types of quizzes by your high school teacher – you'll remember these. The first was the simple multiple choice quiz, with four options, “A, B, C, D.” No matter what, you always had a 25% chance of getting the answer right (50% if you marked “C”!) But then there were those horribly cruel examines with questions something like, “The teacher's favorite non-primary color is _________.” Oh, what a curse was that freedom! How much more every one of us longed for some boundaries to our answers!

Not all freedom is so very helpful. On those tests in high school, we were set free to receive the worst grade possible. But in real life, the freedom that we do have in our choices is all part of a series in which we are compelled to answer, “The teachers favorite color is my favorite color.” We hand in test after test and pop-quiz after pop-quiz with the open ended answers flush to the brim with only what we want the answers to be, bit by bit binding ourselves into a defintion of freedom and goodness that is merely the gravitational pull of me. And, this happens to be God's very definition of evil.9

Ever since Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, having known only good before, we are getting quite a lesson in evil. But this lesson does not end in a pop-quiz. It ends in receiving the full wages which are earned.10 Payment for the knowledge of evil is death.11 Death is no doorway to something better, no portal to a spirit world, no developing too for the fittest to survive. Death is the beginning of something much worse. Death is the foretaste of hell.12

How free does all this make you feel? This is the problem – your problem. A truly free will is a profound and terrifying idea, and you are, in a very real sense, bound to it. This freedom is slavery.

But this is also why learning to believe what Scripture reveals about how we are all possessors of such a bound will is the prelude to some profoundly good news. Remember, God has said that he considers this freedom we have grabbed not merely to be evil and the worst kind of slavery, but that it will be his great glory to save us from it.13 He is Almighty and free in all the best senses of the terms, and he has promised that he is using this Almightyness and freeness according to his own plan, directing everything and anything in all of the cosmos' history (including the fall which we chose and the constant poor decisions which we make) according to this good will.14

God also tends to do only what he wants. The difference is that what he wants is always what is best for everyone else – and, he is powerful enough to pull it off every time.15 What God wants, in your case, is to save you from every last one of your very worst (most freed from him) decisions, choices and actions. And this is the root of the Gospel.

Imagine it: the entire universe is being moved and worked by God according to his designs to save you. There is still no “oops.” There is only his plan, his pre-destiny. Our little rebellious “wills” are running around doing whatever it is that we “will” do, but none of us ever manages to get outside that transcendent completing of salvation which God has set in motion. Not as a robot, but as a sinful human, you make all your decisions, good and (more often) bad, free and (because of it) bound, yet all the while God is being God, not relinquishing one inch of his claim to be your King, and, for that reason, not budging an inch on his intention to save you from the death and hell you have bound yourself into freely choosing (unless he intervenes.)

His Answer

Scripture reveals that God is much more God than our natural reason would ever wish to believe, and this is an imperially good thing. He has enough Godness that he can even overlook our silly disputes about the extent of our “free” wills until where we actually draw the line becomes a wonderfully moot point.16 Whatever you choose, on your own it can never amount to the ultimate right thing.17 If you were given even once chance to save yourself by choosing to give up your freed will, you could be stood up at the gates of hell and you still wouldn't back down. So it is right at that point that God is playing the trump card of his ultimate Sovereignty in order to save you from that most terrible, childish decision you are freely bound to make.

Yet, there is one last piece to this “willful” puzzle. God has planned to save you from your will that will never choose to be saved from. But he also knows that he cannot force that decision either. The bent will cannot be made straight. That would not be salvation. That would be making you a robot, compelling you to live against your everlastingly selfish will for the rest of an eternity. All the good you might do you would actually hate. That wouldn't be any kind of real good at all.

“Aha!” the old flesh in you now must say. “God will not force me to love him. This is a great defense. It appears that must be free choose after all.”

Oh no. It is far worse (and better) than that. God knows that there is no way to force a sinner to genuinely repent. He knows that setting rules and laws doesn't help wicked men become good men. So now, in his Godness, in order to save his creation, he has taken the kind of radical tact and action which none of us could have foreseen, much less chosen. Man needs to be set free from his free (from God) will. Man needs his worst enemy (himself) to be gotten out of the way. So, God has elected to kill Man. That will do the trick. Once Man is dead, he can no longer say “no.” Dead and buried, his sinful will can be stripped away, purged, cleansed and made new. Once dead, he can be regenerated into freedom from himself, from his selfishness, from his bound tyranny. Only once Man is dead, can he be resurrected.

Here is the heart of the matter. Here is the profound reality of what has in fact happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.18
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1. 1 Timothy 4:10 “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people.”

2. Romans 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”

3. Mark 10:26-27 “They were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,'Then who can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man it is impossible...' ”

4. Romans 7:14 “I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”

5. Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

6. Matthew 25:77 “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” cf. 25:14-30

7. Ezekiel 25:35 “Thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.”

8. Psalm 25:11 “For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”

9. James 3:16 “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

10. Psalm 5:10 “Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.”

11. Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.”

12. Revelation 20:14 “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

13. Isaiah 30:18 “The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.”

14. Ephesians 3:10-11 “Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

15. Exodus 34:6-7 “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”

16. Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

17. Psalm 14:3 “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

18. Romans 8:3-4 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh....”

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